Definition of Breath holding spell
A breath holding spell is an involuntary pause in breathing, sometimes accompanied by loss of consciousness. It usually occurs in response to an upsetting or surprising situation.
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
Breath holding is seen in some normal children from as early as age 2 months, but it can start as late as 2 years old. A small number of children have severe spells. Usually the spells stop by the time a child reaches ages 6 – 8.
Signs and tests
The doctor will take a history and do a thorough physical exam to rule out a physical cause of the breath holding. Because of a known association with iron deficiency, a blood test may be done.
No treatment is usually necessary. Children who have breath holding spells do not have or brain damage.
Affected children outgrow breath holding spells by ages 4 – 8. Even children who have a seizure after losing consciousness do not seem to have an increased risk for seizure disorders.
Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc. – 11/2/2009